Marshall Atkinson Judging SGIA Expo Golden Image Awards

This past week I’ve been privileged to attend the 2014 SGIA Expo in Las Vegas and have truly had a great experience.  The show floor was jammed packed with attendees seeking knowledge, equipment, market position, and a bigger slice of the “future”.  It was great fun reconnecting with past industry friends, and meeting new ones.  More than a few faithful blog readers sought me out, and chatting with them about their shop or how they solved a challenge was wonderful.  To recap the week I thought it might be fun to share some observations, notes or random tidbits.  Here goes:

The Future is Bright.  On Tuesday I was honored to judge the 2014 Golden Image Awards for the student category.  It was a lot harder than it looks!  There were some really great entries, and some very talented people out there.  The creative future in the graphics industry rests with these individuals, and it was fantastic reviewing their work.  Congratulations to all the students that entered, and of course the teachers that are developing their talents and skills.  The competition was tough, and very inspiring.  If you sent something in you should be proud.  If you didn’t, think about making an effort next year!

Speaking of the Golden Image…  I’m a t-shirt guy, and was extremely impressed with the entries for the Golden Image awards in that category.  They were flat out amazing.  Incredible detail, fantastic use of high density or other special effects and all of them had killer artwork that just made them stand out.  If you want to see what the best looks like, you need to see these in person.  Next year’s SGIA Expo is in Atlanta.  Make the trip.  Better yet, send in your best work and see how it compares with global competition.

It’s never too late to start.  I overheard several conversations on the show floor, in educational seminars, or just in line for coffee with people searching for information to start their business the right way.  They were all attending this particular show to learn about the print industry so they could get the fundamental basics down, take some training classes and educate themselves personally on equipment, consumables, techniques and how to run their businesses the right way.  Absolutely loved it!!

Digital Future.  Digital equipment and consumables are improving constantly.  For apparel decorators, this stuff is really in their infancy in the industry if you think about it.  Looking at other print disciplines on the SGIA Expo show floor I was incredibly impressed at the size and speed of the print heads on the equipment.  Blazing.  Sure, these digital printers are built for different inks and substrates.  T-shirt printers will tell you that the limitations for digital printing have always been that traditional squeegee pulling on an auto is faster.  There are already digital apparel printers that can knock out 150 shirts an hour.  Just seeing other types of printers working on the Expo show floor I believe that we’ll be seeing digital apparel printers in the next few years that can double that speed.  Maybe more.  How long until digital is just as fast as a traditional screen-printing?  All it takes is some engineering, creativity and big money hurdles.  Will it be possible?  Sure.  Will it be affordable?  Probably not for your average shop…

Sustainability in the conversation.  SGIA has long supported the effort to move more companies to become more efficient and effective by adopting a foundation of sustainability within their organizations, and I was happy to help out in the Sustainability Zone during the week.  In the Zone, and on the show floor, I engaged with a good group of companies regarding their sustainability journeys.  SGIA offers a great Peer to Peer webinar for companies wanting to start their journey, and it’s encouraging to see more companies moving in the direction of Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) Certification.  It was great talking to other SGP Certified printers about how their sustainability programs have transformed their companies into more efficient and profitable firms.  With one company I heard that starting a sustainability program was a “Leap of Faith”, but after a few years of making some major advancements in their workflow they couldn’t believe the huge pile of money that they’ve been saving and the efficiencies they built.  Question: Why haven’t you started your journey yet?

SGP Sustainable Print Strategist Program is coming.  One of the most encouraging developments to debut at the 2014 SGIA Expo is this value-add training program that will be coming soon.  In a nutshell, this is a free training certification that print buyers and SGP Certified printers can obtain to learn how to buy or sell sustainable print products.  It’s a vision of the future.  Sustainability goes beyond the product.  True sustainability encompasses a three tier platform that considers the economic, societal and environmental benefits and attributes.  To create a sustainable business ethic, there must be a subject matter expert that is able to clearly and succinctly articulate a company’s direction, and this is where the Sustainable Print Strategist certification comes into play.  This program will leverage the need for sustainability into the print buying community, so it will be a win-win for everyone involved.  Look for this soon in 2015.

Customer Service is the key.  One of the great things about traveling to a show like this is meeting great people and learning how they run their companies.  The 2014 SGIA Expo was no different.  One of the greatest comments I heard (probably ever) was during a conversation at a booth when the guy dropped this gem “I’d rather have the account than the job”.  This is all long term thinking and really plays into developing the mindset of learning and pushing the Voice of the Customer within your company.  He wasn’t interested in just getting that one order and moving on, but was looking to solve his customer’s challenges and developing a relationship based on understanding.  This customer service mindset wasn’t price based, but value driven.  For everyone out there that feels that they have to drop their pants and compete on price…here’s a guy that is constantly doing it the right way and focusing on the value of a grounded business relationship.

Products.  I’ve made it a point to not advertise or talk about products from suppliers on this blog.  This is on purpose.  I’m going to break that rule to acknowledge a company that I think is making huge steps in advancing the apparel decorating industry.  Last year at the 2013 SGIA Expo in Orlando M&R debuted their ground-breaking i-Image STE LED exposure system, which images and exposes screens in one step with one piece of equipment using LED technology. This year they debuted their production equipment server.  This system connects all of your presses and dryers on the production floor and tracks speed, downtime, error rate and can set goals and keep track of how your production teams are doing.  Managers can get this data on their phones or tablets, and this can be accessed anywhere.  You could display that information on a flat screen for the shop to see to foster some good competition too.  It can be retro-fitted to older M&R equipment.  For shops with multiple printers and shifts this is going to be an incredible management tool.  This is all controlled by a self-contained server unit.  I was literally blown away.  Great job M&R!!

There are jerks everywhere.  Heard this while walking around “…that guy taught me everything I know about printing, but I have never bought anything from him.  Ha!  The jokes on him.”  Really?  What an idiot.  If you have mentors that are helping you grow and succeed in your business and they are part of your supply chain, one of the best ways you can thank them is by doing business with them.  One day that guy will desperately need some help and his fount of knowledge won’t be there for him.  I guess he won’t be laughing then…

So that’s the recap.  For shows like this, the answers to your company’s challenges are on the Expo floor in the exhibitor’s booth’s, in the classroom, and in line for lunch or coffee just by chatting with other industry friends.  Las Vegas is always a great place to host an Expo, but the value isn’t in the neon lights of the host town but in the conversations and relationship building nature of the event.  You are not going to get that just sitting at home.  I left Las Vegas much richer not based on any gambling, but in investing my time developing the future.

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